Product Management in the Real World -“The Divider” Case Study, Part I

A fictional story that never happened and probably never will. 

the-divider.jpg

TASP Security Software was in a serious trouble. Its flagship product for database security, the “Knowledge Keeper”, was replicated by vicious competitors. Due to historical innovation, the company kept its leading role in the market, but the competition gained a growing market share, and all the products were deemed as equal.

The cruel analysts, having no technological understanding, were spreading rumors that “Knowledge Keeper” market is commoditized, an euphemism implying any kid can implement it, and that the price is going to dive soon.

Arnold, the product manager, quickly diagnosed the problem and announced a new concept that will highlight the unique capabilities of “Knowledge Keeper”. The concept will be branded as “The Divider” and will bring to light the “Knowledge Keeper” technological supremacy.  Since the quarterly financial reports were coming along he ordered the developers to “get it done” in four months.

Sigourney, the group manager, was furious:  “Such a product cannot be shipped in four months. We are in the midst of infrastructure projects that we’ll solve the global warming problem! How am I supposed to create a new product with no headcount? – it contradicts the law of energy conservation”.

The developers joined the fury: “How can we code “The Divider” with no definition of its capabilities ? We cannot develop a product based on a vague, fuzzy management concept”  

Still, Sigourney approached the task with faith and agility. Having no programmers available, she assigned Ron to the job. Ron was recruited as chief internal security officer, to educate the employees to guard internal information and develop new security guidelines. When he was recruited, he declared he is tired of programming and he wants to focus on research.  However, Sigourney remembered that Ron is a Wizard coder from the Amiga assembly days. The rumor was that he made the juggling balls, in the Amiga famous demonstration, disappear into the juggler’s mouth.

Mark, a developer from a different group, was added to help Ron in the task. He did not report to Ron, but the task importance was clearly explained to him and his manager.

Since the time was short, Sigourney decided to focus on five existing product features that were never shown in the user interface. The features were hidden, and it was only possible to activate them by manual changes in obscure INI files. It was also decided to develop a new “SQL Guardian” to validate all the SQL instructions sent to the database are indeed legal.

Sigourney and Ron passionately started working on the task. Ron demanded a requirement document from Arnold, the product manager. Since Arnold was busy handling existing customers’ escalations, everyone agreed the development team would create a mock-up of the UI and Arnold would provide feedback on it. Since most features existed for many years, they decided a detailed design for “The Divider” is not needed.

Work progressed quickly. The team realized the importance of the project, but was somewhat frustrated with the minimal resources allocation. Oberon, the director, reassured them: “We are in an initial phase, if the product succeeds, additional people will be added. Right now, you just need to add few dialogs and text to features we had for the last three versions”.

After six weeks, problems began to raise their ugly head. The mockup was progressing slowly. The GUI developer, coming from another group, was not sure what exactly he is supposed to do. His attempts to get clarifications form Ron got a very slow response, as Ron was busy coding “SQL Guardian” which was the most interesting part of the project. Coming from information security background, he made certain that all the smallest vulnerabilities are blocked, even for DB2 and CA-Ingres. Trying to create the perfect SQL parser resulted in a major setback in the project.

To save the day, Arnold presales tasks were moved to the support department. Arnold worked directly with the UI developer to define the dialogs. The mockup was presented to key customers and sales executives and received great feedback.

Product Manager doing Support

Three months along the development, the QA department started warning:”If we don’t get a stable version of the product, there is no way we can complete the testing on time for shipment”.

While Ron worked on the new features, Mark was supposed to integrate the old ones in the new UI. Due to urgent problem in his other group projects, his progress on “The Divider” was quite slow. Although he enjoyed developing new code instead of fixing old bugs, written by the company founders, it was hard to get rid of the obnoxious customer tickets.

Sigourney called for an emergency discussion. “We have to give something to QA. Even if it is not perfect, they can start playing with the product and open bugs.  We’ll inform them on the current limitations and they can work around them”

Ron responded “We didn’t code the GUI-engine communication layer yet!” Sigourney shouted at him: “They can configure it with INI files as far as I’m concerned, by the end of the week we are delivering a version to QA”.

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3 Responses to “Product Management in the Real World -“The Divider” Case Study, Part I”

  1. orip Says:

    it’s only Part I. The suspense really builds…

  2. Product Management in the Real World -“The Divider” Case Study, Part III « Evil Fish Says:

    […] Management in the Real World -“The Divider” Case Study, Part III See Part I and Part II if you haven’t […]

  3. Ten Myths on UI, Usability and Israeli Develoeprs « Evil Fish Says:

    […] https://ophir.wordpress.com/2008/02/16/product-management-in-the-real-world-%e2%80%9cthe-divider%e2%8… […]

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